FOCUS ON: Safety in the Oil & Gas Industry

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The oil and gas industry is one of the more hazardous sectors in Canada. For example, in 2010, there were 16 fatalities in the upstream oil and gas industry in Alberta alone and 83 serious injuries in the industry in BC that year. So it’s no surprise that the oil and gas industry is one of the most intensely regulated in terms of workplace safety, especially in those jurisdictions where this industry has a major presence. This edition of FOCUS ON looks at the common hazards workers face in this industry and tells you how the jurisdictions address oil and gas industry-related safety and hazards in their OHS laws.

Defining Our Terms

When we refer to the “oil and gas industry,” we’re referring to operations involved in or connected to the exploration or drilling for or the production, conservation, processing or transportation of oil or gas, including wells for gas, crude oil or geothermal energy.

THE HAZARDS & INJURIES

Workers in the oil and gas industry perform a wide variety of jobs and thus face an array of hazards. For example, in addition to the “general” hazards workers face in many industries, oil and gas workers are also often exposed to:

  • An increased risk of fires and explosions due to the very nature of oil and gas;
  • Dangerous animals, such as bears and wolves. For example, in 2010, a drilling supervisor in BC was attacked and killed by a black bear;
  • Risks associated with getting to remote worksites, especially offshore facilities. For example, in March 2009, a helicopter on route to the Hibernia oil production platform off of NL crashed into the ocean, killing 17 and seriously injuring the sole survivor;
  • Hazardous substances, such as drilling fluids, hydrogen sulphide and benzene. For example, in May 2011, a hydrogen sulphide leak at an Alberta oil well site killed one worker and injured several other people, including a Mountie at a nearby roadblock; and
  • Dangerous equipment, such as drill rigs. For example, in Aug. 2011, a 55-year-old oil sands worker was working on a well pad in Alberta when a piece of equipment came loose and struck him in the chest. He later died from his injuries.

In Alberta, sprains, strains and tears were the leading type of injury, accounting for 43.8% of the disabling injury claims in the upstream oil and gas industries in 2010.

And according to WorkSafeBC, between 2006 and 2010, the most common causes of injuries in the oil and gas industry were:

  • Struck by pipes/ducts/bars, wrenches/hammers, hoses or machine parts;
  • Overexertion while lifting pipes/ducts/bars, boxes/bags or machine parts;
  • Overexertion while pulling/pushing wrenches, hoses or machine parts;
  • Falling/jumping from a non-moving vehicle;
  • Falling from scaffolding, stairs, ladder, etc.;
  • Slipping on ice or mud;
  • Tripping on matting, pipe, tarp or other material;
  • Motor vehicle incidents, including jackknifes and vehicles overturning with a collision;
  • Getting caught in drilling or other machinery; and
  • Exposure to noise.

There’s a chart below of the most common types of safety incidents and injuries in BC in the oil and gas industry.

REGULATION

The jurisdictions address the safety issues and hazards that are specific to the oil and gas industry in several ways, depending to some degree on the nature of the industry’s presence in them. There are four basic approaches:

Oil & gas regulations under OHS law. Two jurisdictions—Fed and ON—have regulations devoted to oil and gas industry safety and hazards under their OHS laws. Federal law covers this area in the Oil and Gas OHS Regulations. Ontario addresses safety and hazards in the offshore oil and gas industry in the Oil and Gas – Offshore Regulation. (The province also addresses safety and hazards at oil and gas extraction facilities in the Mines and Mining Plants Regulation.)

Oil & gas section of general regulations. Five jurisdictions—AB, BC, MB, SK and YT—have sections in their general OHS regulations on oil and gas industry safety and hazards. For example, in Alberta, these regulations are in Part 37 of the OHS Code, 2009 and focus on oil and gas wells. And in BC, Part 23 of the OHS Regulations covers this industry.

NL and NS. Two jurisdictions—NL and NS—have a unique situation in that the oil and gas industry is largely a presence offshore of these provinces. So each has federal regulations devoted to safety and hazards in their respective offshore areas. NL also addresses some safety hazards in the Petroleum Drilling Regulations under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act.

Insider Says: The agencies that enforce the OHS laws in these provinces are not responsible for enforcing these offshore oil and gas safety regulations. Instead, they’re enforced by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.

Address generally in OHS regulations. The remaining jurisdictions—NT, NU, PE and QC—don’t specifically address safety and hazards in the oil and gas industry in their OHS regulations. Instead, they regulate hazards and safety issues that apply to this industry as well as other industries, such as fall protection, WHMIS and PPE.

Of course, regardless of how jurisdictions approach oil and gas industry-specific hazards and safety, oil and gas operations in all jurisdictions are “workplaces” and thus must comply with all of the applicable terms of the general OHS law and regulations.

BOTTOM LINE

The oil and gas industry makes an important contribution to the Canadian economy, especially in jurisdictions such as Alberta. For example, in 2010, more than 140,000 workers were employed in the mining and oil & gas extraction industries in Alberta, which accounted for 19.1% of the province’s Gross Domestic Product that year. But the industry also accounts for many workplace injuries and fatalities. So if you’re the safety coordinator of a company in this industry, it falls on your shoulders to ensure that you’re familiar with the applicable safety requirements and are taking adequate measures to ensure that the company complies with them.

 

Know the Laws of Your Province

OIL & GAS INDUSTRY-RELATED SAFETY REGULATION

Here’s how your jurisdiction addresses oil & gas industry safety and hazards in its OHS laws:

FED

Addresses oil & gas industry related safety and hazards in the Oil and Gas OHS Regulations (also, see NL and NS below for additional federal regulations)

AB

Addresses oil & gas industry related safety and hazards in Part 37 (Oil and Gas Wells) of the OHS Code 2009

BC

Addresses oil & gas industry related safety and hazards in Part 23 (Oil and Gas) of the OHS Regulations

MB

Addresses oil & gas industry related safety and hazards in Part 41 (Oil and Gas) of the Workplace Safety & Health Regulation

NB

OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards.

NL

Provincial OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards. But the Petroleum Drilling Regulations under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act do address some safety hazards and issues and the federal Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and regulations do address safety and hazards for workers in the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area

NT/

NU

OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards.

NS

Provincial OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards but the federal Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and regulations do address safety and hazards for workers in the Nova Scotia Offshore Area

ON

Addresses safety and hazards in the offshore oil & gas industry in the Oil and Gas – Offshore Regulation; addresses safety and hazards at oil and gas extraction facilities in the Mines and Mining Plants Regulation

PE

OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards.

QC

OHS regulations don’t specifically address oil & gas industry related safety and hazards.

SK

Addresses oil & gas industry related safety and hazards in Part XXIX (Oil and Gas) of the OHS Regulations

YT

Address oil and gas industry related safety and hazards in Part 17 (Oil and gas Industry) of the OHS Regulations

 

Part of Body Injured — Alberta: 2010

Source: AB Report on Occupational Injuries & Diseases in the Upstream Oil and Gas Industries from 2006 to 2010

 

Accident and Injury Type – BC

ACCIDENT TYPES

Claims

Claims Cost

Days Paid

Overexertion

19%

Struck By

24%

Struck By

23%

Struck By

18%

MVI’s

24%

MVI’s

18%

Fall from Elevation

13%

Fall from Elevation

19%

Fall from Elevation

17%

Fall on Same Level

10%

Caught In

9%

Overexertion

12%

Other Bodily Motion

9%

Overexertion

8%

Caught In

9%

Other

31%

Other

18%

Other

21%

 

INJURY TYPES

Claims

Claims Cost

Days Paid

Other Strains

26%

Fractures

40%

Fractures

40%

Fractures

17%

Other Strains

11%

Other Strains

22%

Back Strain

15%

Concussion

8%

Back Strain

8%

Contusion

10%

Amputation

8%

Contusion

4%

Laceration

6%

Back Strain

6%

Concussion

4%

Other

26%

Other

27%

Other

21%

 

Overexertion represents 20% of the claims but less than 10% of the claim costs. MVIs, however, represent one quarter of the claim costs and aren’t in the top five in terms of claim volume.

Source: Business Information & Analysis, WorkSafeBC, Oct. 2011

 

Oil & Gas Safety Resources

Here are some resources for information on safety in the oil and gas industry:

AB: ENFORM; Explanation Guide to Part 37 of the OHS Code

BC: WorkSafeBC Petroleum (Oil & Gas) Resource Page

MB: Bulletin on Hydrogen Sulphide Exposure in the Petroleum Industry

NL: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

NS: Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.